TWO MONTHS AFTER THE FALLING OUT
I had a bit of a nervous breakdown after Iris left without a trace.
It was the strangest thing, but I suddenly didn’t like my own company so much.
In fact, I began to hate it, even at home.
I still went to the gym at the exact same time, every single day, in the small hope that she’d show again. She didn’t, but I kept going, because I wanted to see her again.
She hadn’t been in my life for long, but I missed her.
Being that I couldn’t stand my own company, I began to reconnect with old friends, people I hadn’t talked to since the divorce, the friends I’d chalked up to losses in the breakup; Tammy’s assets when we’d been chopping our combined life in half.
For some reason, they all seemed very happy to hear from me. I felt like a jerk for going into full hermit mode and attempted to have something of a social life again.
I’d often meet up with another writer friend for coffee or lunch after my workout, telling myself that if I just kept working at it—being a normal person, with normal social habits—it wouldn’t feel so forced.
And it was true. Two months post Iris, and I was looking forward to having coffee with my friend, Benji.
He was already sitting at a table as I entered the café a few shops down from my gym.
I waved at him, saw he had an extra coffee for me, and bypassed the line to go directly to him.
He slid me the cup as I sat down.
“You make your deadline?” I asked him. Like me, he was a neurotic, work obsessed writer, and so we always had something to talk about. It was good. Distractions were good. The more the better. The more plates spinning the better, these days.
He nodded with a grin, pushing his thick glasses up high on his nose, and sweeping his light brown hair away from his face. He was a good seven years my junior, with a lean, nerdy look that I thought suited him. He wore it well. “How about you? I know you were early on your publisher’s deadline, but how is your indie project coming along?”
“Good. Good. My word count is flowing faster than ever. I should be done in about four weeks.”
He whistled. “Will you sell it to the publisher, if they decide they like it and make you a good offer?”
I shrugged. “I doubt it. This whole project is an experiment for me. It won’t be much fun if I don’t get to at least see how making seventy percent compares to making, yanno, eight.”
He shook his head, smiling wryly. “You’re forgetting your advance. You can’t tell me they don’t give you plenty up front.”
I shrugged again. “Like I said, this one is an experiment. I doubt even my publisher can sway me, and it’s not exactly written in the genre I’m known for, so they wouldn’t write me a big check for it, anyway.”
“You’re probably right.” He sighed. “I envy you the flexibility to do what you want. Some of us are still writing just to pay the bills.”
We sipped coffee and talked shop for a bit. We were just getting ready to leave when he suddenly trailed off mid-sentence, looking at something behind me.
I turned to see what it was, and an electric fire went off in my brain at the sight that met my eyes.
Setting my jaw hard, I turned carefully away.
So the back of that blonde woman in line resembled Iris, so what?
This wasn’t the first time my brain had tricked me into thinking she was somewhere close.
But it was never her. I’d see some young blonde thing out of the corner of my eye and turn to stare until I met a stranger’s blank stare.
Not today. Today I was going to ignore the urge to obsess. It wasn’t her, just some young woman with a great body. She wasn’t even dressed correctly, wearing a pleated skirt and a belted, collared blouse.
Iris wouldn’t be caught dead in business attire.
“Holy fucking shit, man. Did you see that chick?” Benji asked, his tone reverent.
My mouth quirked up in a rueful smile. Even the most civilized men turned into mouth-breathers if a hot enough woman walked into the room.
“I did.” I took a long sip of coffee, watching Benji, who just kept watching the woman in line, forcing myself, with great effort, to stifle the urge to turn around again. “Nice ass,” I noted.
“Yes. But you need to turn around and check out the rest of her. Huge titties, man.”
I rolled my eyes. There was a bit of a generation gap between us. My generation thought shit like that, but then we kept it to ourselves, like grown-ups.
“Big soft tits,” he continued, “in a semi-sheer white blouse. Fuuuck. She’s got a tan. How many articles you think I need to write to bang a chick that out of my league?”
“A lot,” I mused, still staying firmly with my back to the woman in question.
“Like how many is a lot?”
“What do you make? Like five hundred an article? I’d say about two thousand of those, minimum. If she’s as hot as she looked from the back, though, you’d need to be well into the millionaire club before she’d give you the time of day, so more like five thousand articles, realistically.”
His eyes were wide as he finally looked away from the hot chick and back to me. “Really? That is fucking depressing, dude.”
I shrugged. “Yeah. But the really sad part is you’d have to spend a good chunk of that cash on her, if you wanted her to stay around for any length of time.”
He shook his head. “I think you’ve gone cynical, after Tammy.”
I couldn’t dispute that. Not a bit. “You may be right. What can I say? Divorce messes with your head.” I didn’t bring up Iris. I hadn’t told him about her. “Why don’t you go ask her out, if you’re so certain I’m wrong?”
He laughed. “I didn’t say you were wrong, I said you were cynical, and so am I. That chick is out of my league, period. I need more money to bag a woman like that. Or at the very least, better looks and a bigger dick. And look at that, fuck, she’s already leaving. I was hoping she’d sit down to drink her coffee, and let me look at her for a few more minutes.”
“Maybe you were creeping her out. You’ve barely taken your eyes off her since she walked in the door.”
He didn’t even seem to hear me. “Oh, no, wait, she’s only going to the bathroom. I thought it was weird she was leaving without her order. Did you see her shoes, man? Those are some ‘fuck-me’ stilettos. And her hair is in this tight bun, and she’s wearing sexy librarian glasses. Will you please turn and look when she comes back out? I will drop the subject if you will just get a better view of her and agree with me that she’s a ten.”
“Nope. Not doing it. That poor girl does not need us both creeping out on her. I’ll take your word for it.”
That seemed to settle the matter. He dropped it.
His phone rang; he checked the screen and started cursing. “I’ve got to run. Same time next week?”
I nodded, and he left. I didn’t move and still didn’t turn around. I had that feeling, a tingle on my neck, like I was being watched from behind, and I was again talking myself out of obsessing about Iris.
But burned in my brain was the image of the back of that woman, and in spite of myself, I was comparing.
And a small part of me was enjoying the torture of imagining it could be her, that she would find me again.
Finally, I cracked, turning to look, thinking that the woman must have left, so I should just get it over with, like pulling off a Band-Aid.
And there she was.
There was Iris, standing only feet away, holding a cup of coffee and watching me, her expression very blank. She was wearing sexy librarian glasses, her hair in a tight bun, just like Benji had said.
And it really was her, in the flesh.
She wore white, and her clothes were fitted enough to show off every lush curve. Her mouthwatering breasts were clearly outlined, the buttons of her blouse open enough to show an extravagant amount of cleavage.
How had I forgotten just how stunning she was? How captivating?
Her large breasts were even more exceptional than I remembered, as though I’d dreamt her up as a comic book version of herself.
The moment our eyes met, she began to move, walking with easy grace to sit across from me.
She looked cold, so icy blonde and beautiful, like some mix of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.
Terrible and beautiful.
It felt like fatal voltage to my chest just to look at her like that.
It was Iris, but Iris as a stranger. No, it was worse than that. It was like she was a curious, wild, imaginary creature, with the pieces of her just now put together, invented for my eyes, not how I remembered at all, because even when she’d been angry, she had never been cold.
Then she smiled, and it was her again, all traces of the cold stranger gone.
Which one was the real Iris?
I swallowed hard and saw her eyes dart to my throat.
“God, I missed the sound of your voice.”
“The sound of my voice?” My voice caught on the question awkwardly, breaking slightly on the last word.
She had such a talent for catching me off guard.
“Yes. You have the best voice, like a stern school teacher.”
My brain short-circuited for a bit before I could respond. “You say the most outrageous things.”
She laughed, and its tinkling sound felt like velvet across the back of my neck. “Is that all you have to say to me, after all this time?” she asked quietly.
“I’m sorry for all the things—”
“I don’t want you to take those things back, if you still believe them, and besides, that’s not what I meant. Don’t you have anything else to say to me?”
I took a few deep breaths. “Where have you been? And why are you back now?”
“That’s not what I meant, either. And I don’t want to talk about that. Didn’t you miss me?”
She reached a hand across the table, and I found one of mine grasping it, lacing our fingers tightly together.
My eyes squeezed shut. It felt very good to touch her again, even just her hand. “Yes, Iris, I missed you very much.”
“There you go. Was that so hard? I missed you, too. You look good.” She tugged her hand away, and my eyes opened to follow its retreat.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
She looked like she was trying not to smile. “Like what?”
“Like a professional. Why are you wearing glasses? What are you doing? Where did you go? Where have you been?”
She glanced around, and the way she did it struck me as more than a little paranoid. “Want to go for a walk?”
My heart started pounding hard.
I didn’t hesitate.
“Of course I do,” I said, absolutely no thought required.
I’d take a walk with her anytime, anywhere.
She smiled, taking off those sexy glasses. “Well, then, let’s get out of here.”